The questions we’ll look at in the rest of our series will differ from the previous questions. These questions cover a wider range of topics and the questions focus more on what Jesus came to do and by extension what does it mean to follow him, rather than on who he is. The passage concerns divorce and marriage, and the question that Jesus asks is, “What did Moses command?”
Jesus asks the Pharisees: “What did Moses command you?” And the Pharisees refer to Deuteronomy 24.
24:1“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 24:1-4
- The Pharisees were divided over the phrase “some indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1.
- One group followed the Rabbi Hillel, who thought that some indecency meant for any cause at all (e.g. a poorly cooked meal).
- The other group followed the Rabbi Shammiai, who thought “some indecency” meant immorality (e.g. adultery).
- At the time only men could initiate a divorce. All a man had to do was write his wife a certificate of divorce and return her dowry.
- Although a woman could force a divorce by committing adultery. Under Jewish law, adultery was punishable with death by stoning. However, at the time of Jesus, adultery frequently went unpunished because 1) the Jews were under Roman rule and forbidden to enforce their own laws and 2) divorce and adultery were somewhat common.
- Deuteronomy does not advocate divorce. It acknowledges divorce happens and regulates the circumstances in which divorce can take place.
- This regulation protects a wife. A man cannot abandon her, leaving her status ambiguous. This provision also prohibits a kind of “legalized” wife-swapping through serial divorces and marriages.
- Deuteronomy 24 is only one part of the picture. Genesis 2 – which Jesus quotes – is another.
10:1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
Mar 10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:1-12
- Matthew 19:3-9 adds detail to their question: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
- The Pharisees are inviting Jesus into the debate, hoping he’ll anger one or both sides.
- Notice the Pharisees ask is divorce lawful — not wise, moral, holy or honorable.
- Genesis 2:24 teaches that marriage is three commitments: 1) Specialness (Leaving): I promise to make my spouse the most special thing in all creation; 2) One Life: I promise to share every aspect of my life with my spouse. (For this cause … they shall become one flesh); 3) Permanence (Cleaving): I promise to keep these conmitments until “death do us part.”
- See 01 The 3 Commitments of Marriage (Genesis 2)
- Jesus answers: God intended marriage to last forever but divorce is a necessary evil because of your sin.
- Especially in speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus frequently quotes an Old Testament more command and then says “but I say to you” and explains what true obedience looks like (e.g. Matthew 5:27-28)
- Everyone fails the standard of righteousness. God can forgive any sin and redeem any situation.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.